Life can be full of emotions—some wonderful; some horrible. So how do we handle them? What do we do with them?
- Do we let emotions run our lives and act on every emotion we feel? Such impulsiveness could really get us into trouble in a variety of ways. Think Romeo and Juliet.
- Do we stuff them down and avoid them? Do we hide in screens, video games, books, pretending like everything is ok? If so, we miss out on connections, which are so important in giving life meaning and purpose.
- Do we get angry and lash out, which covers up our real feelings so that we don’t feel them? People used to say to let your anger out. But study after study is showing that acting on your anger, venting, letting your anger out, actually fuels the fire and makes you more angry.
There is an alternative, and it’s a pretty powerful one. We can notice when emotions come. And then we can breathe. I always like to think of breath as inspiration from God. We read: “God’s spirit made me; the Almighty’s breath enlivens me,” and that “the spirit in a person, the Almighty’s breath, gives understanding” (Job 33:4, 32:8 CEB). Some translations have “the Almighty’s breath” as “inspiration.”
As we breathe, we can take a moment to feel them. This can be scary sometimes because some of the emotions that we may be feeling seem overwhelmingly awful. We may feel deeply sad, hurt, alone, scared, disappointed, pained. But as we feel them, things change. And we allow the breath, the inspiration of God, to fill the space where the pain appears to be.
And then … we let them go. We let the ugly, terrifying, depressing, overwhelming feelings pass through and dissipate. This is where we express power. We can say: Yep that’s a pretty scary feeling, but it doesn’t have to make me run and hide, or fight like a wild animal, or curl up and give up. That emotion doesn’t have to control me. It’s just an emotion. And God gave me dominion (Gen 1:26). The more we practice this, the more dominion we have; the more self-regulated we become; the more peace and joy we bring into our lives. We’re able to handle the emotions, rather than letting the emotions handle us.
This isn’t easy though. It takes incredible courage and faith—courage to brave the hurts and faith that God will help us rise above them. That’s where the story of the three Hebrew boys comes in. When they were faced with a fire, they didn’t run; they didn’t give up; they didn’t even fight the fire. But they were certainly aware of the fire. They were in the middle of it. But they didn’t get burned up. The “smell of fire” didn’t even touch them (Dan 3:27). Why?
I think they were inspired. They breathed with God. They let the flames pass. They didn’t let emotions control them. They didn’t react. Rather, they stayed steady with God. And the Christ presence, the fourth person that looked “like the Son of God,” was with them, nullifying any negative effect of flames (Dan 3:25).
So let’s be like the Hebrew boys. The big scary fire of emotions can rage around us. We can be in the middle of them. But emotions don’t have to control us, burn us, even kill us. We can have the courage to notice emotions, breathe with God, and let them pass. We can stand firm in God’s power to save us, allowing the Christ spirit to be by our side. And thus, we find healing and power and peace.